All quiet on the 'blog more' front

26 May 2006

It's curious. When a blogging lynch mob forms, you have all manner of PR bloggers calling for the victim company to blog more. "Oh, if only Kryptonite blogged, peace would have broken out, rather than this nasty riot". Yet, it's spookily silent. That might be because blogging in the latest instance actually made the problem a whole lot worse for O'Reilly and Associates.

Originally, IT@Cork was threatened with a nastygram from CMP, the owner of a couple of applications for a service mark on the phrase "Web 2.0" - something the company protected assiduously by putting the mark on a slightly different phrase. One of the organisers published the letter on his blog and a veritable storm burst. But not over CMP. Over O'Reilly. The book publisher was named as the prime mover behind the warning letter, although the letter clearly came from CMP.

This being the world of blogs, a lot of people took the original post at face value and started to collect their virtual pitchforks and rope, ready for a good ritual hangin'. And O'Reilly was to be the first on the list. Some people counseled caution.

Then a response came from O'Reilly. And even the doubters over whether O'Reilly was involved began to think the mob can't always be wrong. But, being at the core of the whole Web 2.0 bandwagon, O'Reilly was going to have to say something. Curiously, rather than just pointing the finger at CMP, O'Reilly said it sanctioned the letter. Then the real lynching started. Score one own goal for blogging as a way out of trouble.

Now that O'Reilly has put its hand up to trying to trademark "Web 2.0", various conspiracy theories have been hatched. The main one is that CMP and O'Reilly planned all along to use the service mark in much the same way that companies use patents in standards. File them as quietly as you can, then spring the IP nastygrams on victims once it's too late. However, this is unlikely on two counts. One is that trademarks don't work that way. If you don't enforce them consistently, you don't get to keep them. Going aggressively after a victim in a country where you have a really weak claim after two years of relative inaction on your home turf is an even worse policy.

A commenter at O'Reilly Radar, Stephen Gilbert, noted that an easy way forward would have been for CMP to offer a licence for use of the Web 2.0 mark. It's a pretty standard thing and you don't have to make it an open-ended licence. Done civilly, a lot of people would just say OK and not bother to check the actual status of the trademark. But the initial letter blew that option away. The IT@Cork blog posting drew a lot of attention to the service mark's actual status - and its relative weakness.

It all smacks of incompetence not conspiracy. A lot of people seem to think that, when Tim O'Reilly gets back from his short, sudden holiday, he will be able to smooth it out with a considered blog posting. The reality is that a lot of this is out of his hands. The decisions are down to the owner of the applications for the trademark: that's a different company. The best he can do is convince other people of what they need to do before he starts blogging in true Web 2.0 PR style.

1 Comment

Chris, thanks for the mention! I've just posted a strategy that O'Reilly could have used to remain aligned with their stated principals: O'Reilly, Get Real